Meet Noel Francisco, the man who will oversee the Mueller probe if Trump fires Rosenstein

Solicitor General Noel Francisco on Capitol Hill in May 2017.

The solicitor general has argued for broad executive powers.

On Friday, the New York Times released an explosive report saying that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein suggested to other FBI officials that they secretly record Trump “to expose the chaos consuming the administration” and considered invoking the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office. The story has once again raised speculation that Rosenstein may soon be out of a job.

Rosenstein is the man in charge of overseeing special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 election. Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from that role in March 2017 because of potential conflicts of interest.

If Rosenstein were fired, or if he quit, the spotlight would turn to Solicitor General Noel Francisco. Francisco is the next Senate-confirmed Justice Department official in line, which means the Mueller investigation would drop to him. (The No. 3 person in the department, Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand, resigned in February; the Trump administration hasn’t picked a replacement.)

Francisco would have two options as Mueller’s new boss: He could keep the status quo and allow Mueller to continue the investigation, or he could choose to curtail Mueller’s mandate or even shut down the investigation.

Francisco, a prominent Republican lawyer, has some impressive conservative credentials. He clerked for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and worked in the Justice Department during the George W. Bush administration.

He’s also defended a broad interpretation of executive power — he even tried to argue a case before the Supreme Court that defended the president’s expansive power to fire executive branch officials. That case is unrelated to the Mueller probe, but Francisco’s argument, and his legal interpretations, offers some insight into the man who might soon take over Rosenstein’s job.

Who is Noel Francisco?

The Senate confirmed Francisco as solicitor general, the lawyer who represents the government’s agenda before the Supreme Court, in September 2017 on a 50-47 party-line vote.

Francisco’s résumé includes working on George W. Bush’s legal team in the 2000 Florida recount and, as a partner at the law firm Jones Day, representing former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell in his successful case before the Supreme Court that led to McDonnell’s corruption conviction being overturned.

Francisco has a sterling reputation as a conservative lawyer, but he apparently wasn’t Trump’s first choice for the job. Chuck Cooper, a well-known litigator, was Trump’s top pick, according to CNN, but he withdrew from consideration.

Eventually, the president nominated Francisco. His confirmation hearing took place the day after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey — so the issue of “loyalty to the administration” was on the minds of some Democratic senators.

In response to a written question on how he would maintain his independence from the White House, Francisco gave an anodyne answer: “If confirmed, I will provide the President, the White House, and any other entity that I am called upon to advise with candid and independent legal advice.”

Decoding Francisco’s views on executive power

Francisco’s past legal stances indicate he takes a pretty broad view of executive powers and has some skepticism about the need for special counsels.

In 2007, he testified about his views on presidential power during a congressional inquiry into Bush’s politically motivated firing of nine US attorneys. The administration had been reluctant to turn over documents or let officials testify under oath on issues related to mass dismissal of US attorneys. Bush invoked executive privilege to defend his decision.

Francisco, who by then was in private legal practice, appeared before a House committee to defend the administration. As Mother Jones reports, he criticized the idea of appointing a special counsel to investigate the Bush administration over this scandal:

“I don’t think it would be appropriate for the Department of Justice to appoint” a special counsel, he testified, explaining that “my own personal belief is that when you hand these issues off to the career prosecutors in the public integrity sections in the US attorneys’ offices in the Department of Justice, those attorneys are generally better able to assess whether a case should be pursued.”

Francisco also argued for the expansiveness of executive power, saying that conversations between administration officials, even if Bush wasn’t actively involved, could be protected by executive privilege. He didn’t say executive privilege was absolute — but he basically said it was up to the court to decide: “What the courts have said is that in the context of a criminal investigation, if there is a sufficient showing of need, it can obviate the privilege.”

Francisco’s early tenure in the Trump administration indicates his positions haven’t shifted all that much.

He argued a case before the Supreme Court that could have implications for the Mueller investigation. It involves a narrow issue of how Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) administrative law judges are hired.

But as the Los Angeles Times reported in April, Francisco has stepped in and asked the Court to decide on a much larger question of the president’s constitutional authority to not just hire officials but fire them too:

Francisco points to two provisions of the Constitution as giving the president very broad authority. One says the president shall appoint ambassadors, judges and “all other officers of United States.” The other says the president “shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”

”The president’s constitutional responsibility to faithfully execute the laws requires adequate authority to remove subordinate officers,” Francisco told the court in February. “The framers understood the close connection between the president’s ability to discharge his responsibilities as head of the executive branch and his control over its personnel. … The president’s ability to execute the law is thus inextricably linked to his authority to hold his subordinates accountable for their conduct.”

Francisco is basically saying the Constitution gives the president the authority to dismiss all officials who have power under the executive branch. That could, most conspicuously, give Trump a legal way to oust Mueller.

The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the administration, but decided the case very narrowly on the question raised about the status of SEC administrative law judges. And as legal writer Cristian Farias pointed out, Justice Elena Kagan chastised Francisco for trying to make a broader argument about presidential power.

But it’s telling that the administration took this stance and that Francisco, as the solicitor general, is making these arguments before the court.

Francisco’s approach to executive power doesn’t mean that if he takes over he’ll immediately fire Mueller, or even rein in Mueller’s mandate. But it does hint that he might be more sympathetic to the Trump administration’s stance, especially if the allegations about Rosenstein intensify the clamor on the right about the Mueller probe being biased against the president.

And yet Francisco did dine with Rosenstein and Sessions in March shortly after Trump slammed Sessions on Twitter for kicking the investigation of what Trump and his allies see as the FBI’s mishandling of the surveillance of former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page to the inspector general.

The dinner, coming as it did on the heels of the president viciously and publicly attacking his attorney general, seemed to suggest the three men had formed a united front against Trump’s assaults on Sessions and the Justice Department.

Then again, all three, Francisco included, could be fired by Trump at any time.

source: vox

The 25th Amendment, explained: how a president can be declared unfit to serve


The problem with Jeff Bezos’s $2 billion gift to charity

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos participates in an event hosted by the Air Force Association on September 19, 2018, in National Harbor, Maryland.

Why the Amazon CEO’s new philanthropic initiative might not do as much good as he hopes.

Jeff Bezos, the richest man in the world, caused a stir last week by announcing a major philanthropic initiative that will devote $2 billion to address homelessness and education. Called the Day One Fund, the project has two priorities: funding existing nonprofits that serve homeless families, and creating a network of new, nonprofit preschools in low-income communities.

Two billion dollars is an enormous amount of money, enough to transform many lives. The good that Bezos will do is commendable. Unfortunately, he might achieve a lot less than he could.

Interventions in early childhood have a troubled track record; it’s not clear what works, and some interventions may cause harm. The picture for homelessness programs is a little more promising, but we still don’t know much about what work it would take to achieve Bezos’s inspiring vision statement that “no child sleeps outside.”

In choosing to focus his philanthropic attention on these projects, he seems to be approaching this initiative with none of the rigor or clarity that he prides himself on at Amazon. And by starting out already committed to two causes, Bezos undermines his fund’s ability to answer the question he launched it with: “Where are the opportunities to make things better?”

The hard lessons from charitable interventions in education

Bezos’s Day One Academies Fund will spend hundreds of millions of dollars to launch and operate a line of preschools for low-income children. The problem is that this has been tried before — and we really don’t know whether it works.

We’ve been trying for a long time to do early childhood education that produces lasting results for kids. The earliest attempt in the US was Head Start, the federally funded early childhood education program for low-income families, which has been running since the 1960s. There have been some studies with promising results, but there have also been many that struggle to detect any effect size.

On the pessimistic side, randomized controlled trials (RCTs) have found that it barely improves outcomes for kids — and the gains don’t last, typically evaporating by first or second grade. A 2010 study by the Department of Health and Human Services found that “averaging across all children, the benefits of access to Head Start at age four are largely absent by 1st grade.” The study tried breaking the data down further to see if there are any subgroups the program does help. It found some promising trends — maybe the program works for black 3-year-olds, but not anyone else — but also some subgroups in which the intervention seemed actively harmful, like kids in households with a depressed parent. (Subgroup analyses like that often just turn up noise, and I’m skeptical that there are meaningful results for any category.)

Many advocates of Head Start look more optimistically towards long-term results. Some researchers found that Head Start makes people less likely to be arrested in their 20s. It’s hard to know what to make of these findings. Longitudinal studies — the only kind that would detect an effect like that — often don’t fully control for confounding variables, and it would be odd for Head Start to have no effects for 10 years and then sizable effects in adulthood. Then again, maybe early childhood education benefits students in some way we’re still figuring out how to measure.

The mixed findings aren’t limited to Head Start, either. A randomized controlled trial of the Tennessee Voluntary Pre-K Program found some effects at the start of kindergarten, but by the end of kindergarten, the other kids had caught up. There was no effect in subsequent years (by some analyses, there was actually a negative effect — on average kids in the program did worse than the control group).

One possible explanation for the mixed findings is that some preschools are good and some are bad. One of the studies that found results for Head Start concluded that the children in their sample who went to non-Head Start preschools did worse than children with no preschool at all. Of course, there are also some studies (like the famous Perry preschool experiment) that have found promising results for other preschools.

The most worrying thing about Bezos’s proposal, given that background, is its focus on scale. In his opening statement, he set forth a goal that seems inappropriately ambitious given the difficulty of making progress in this area, writing that his fund would “launch and operate a network of high-quality, full-scholarship, Montessori-inspired preschools in underserved communities” and “build an organization to directly operate these preschools.”

He doesn’t just want to fund some pilot programs trying to find schools that outperform the spotty track record of previous interventions. Instead, he is trying to build a network of schools right off the bat. But without any reason to expect something to work, there’s no reason to scale it — and starting at scale is a great way to waste a lot of money, and even do damage if your intervention turns out to be a bad idea.

The homeless initiative might be more successful — but its impact may still be limited

The picture is a little more promising in Bezos’s other focus area.

Unlike preschool education, where we’re still uncertain how to get results that actually benefit kids, we know that spending money on homelessness gets people off the streets. A meta-analysis of dozens of RCTs of homelessness interventions found that housing-first programs (which connect people to homes without requiring them to qualify or comply with complex conditions), as well as intensive case-management programs, successfully keep people sheltered.

Inconveniently, we know less about which interventions are best for the specific homeless population Bezos is targeting: families. A meta-analysis of the evidence base for homelessness interventions ended up throwing out interventions targeting homeless families, because there just weren’t methodologically strong studies of interventions for this population. It seems likely that the interventions that work for single homeless people will work for families, but in philanthropy, interventions that “seem likely” to work often don’t.

On a more promising note, Bezos says he’s partnering with existing organizations to tackle homelessness, rather than trying to launch his own organization. That introduces a little less room for error. His initiative will, in all likelihood, successfully shelter some families — and that’s genuinely commendable.

Bezos’s $2 billion could make more of an impact elsewhere

For all the good it might do for the people it ends up reaching, Bezos’s Day One Fund will nonetheless achieve a whole lot less than if he were trying to do as much good as possible with $2 billion.

Is it fair to hold him accountable for that? I think so. Bezos said the founding questions of his fund are “Where’s the good in the world, and how can we spread it?” and “Where are the opportunities to make things better?” That means it’s reasonable to try to imagine how a fund that was dedicated to answering those questions would be run.

Some charitable causes are a lot more tractable, and a lot more impactful, than others. The gains from success are greater, and it takes less money and effort to make progress. This has been a slowly and painfully learned lesson in global development, where cheap, tractable, and impactful interventions — like giving everyone bednets — are getting more attention as givers sour on flashy interventions that don’t work. There’s a growing consensus in development now that aid-givers should prioritize impact — spend their limited resources on the interventions that work the best, whatever those are — that wasn’t there 10 years ago.

The idea shouldn’t be new to Bezos, though. Among tech startup CEOs, Bezos is well-known for how methodically he identified the opportunity for Amazon. He saw that the internet reflected an unprecedented new opportunity. He figured out what kind of business would be poised to take advantage of it. He ran that business, instead of running some different business.

What would that look like in the philanthropy world?

In philanthropy, like in business, there are some opportunities that are particularly important, tractable, and neglected.

When there are teams on the ground to distribute more malaria nets in Africa, but no one to provide the nets so they can be distributed, that’s a high-impact philanthropic opportunity. Supplying the nets can get more households coverage at a cost of only a few dollars a net.

When researchers think they might be able to design suffering-free and slaughter-free meat that is cost-competitive with factory-farmed meat, but need seed funding to make their endeavor happen, that’s a high-impact philanthropic opportunity.

When new research comes out suggesting that moderately sized cash transfers reduce child mortality and have effects that endure for years, that’s a high-impact philanthropic opportunity. You can arrange for studies at higher scale and make those transfers available everywhere if the results are borne out.

Most philanthropists, though, don’t seem to be looking for those opportunities. (There are exceptions.) They don’t seem to be prioritizing evidence of impact, and they don’t seem to be doing what Bezos so successfully did when he started Amazon: figuring out where his efforts will matter most by seriously thinking about what the world will look like in 20 years.

In his annual letter to shareholders this spring, Bezos exhorted them to have high standards in everything they do and to remain aware that in new fields, they might be setting the bar in the wrong place: “You can consider yourself a person of high standards in general and still have debilitating blind spots. There can be whole arenas of endeavor where you may not even know that your standards are low or non-existent, and certainly not world class. It’s critical to be open to that likelihood.”

He’s right. Wealthy individuals venturing into philanthropy are venturing into a new domain and treating it as straightforward in a way they should realize it isn’t. They’re not applying the same standards to their philanthropy that they applied to their businesses. It took the Gates Foundation decades, and billions of wasted dollars, to realize that effective action in the nonprofit world, like effective action in the for-profit world, is hard, and it takes specialized expertise.

Hopefully, Bezos will figure it out sooner.

source: vox

Rosenstein is the only person between Trump and Mueller. He may soon be gone.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s ouster may be imminent after a September 21, 2018 New York Times report.

Rosenstein’s ouster may now be imminent. That’s really bad news for Mueller’s Trump-Russia probe.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein has found himself in the middle of a political firestorm, and it’s possible he’ll be entirely consumed by it.

On Friday, the New York Times reported that Rosenstein had suggested last year that he and others secretly record President Donald Trump in an effort to remove him from office via the 25th Amendment. Rosenstein denies the he did that, and one source told the Times that Rosenstein made the suggestion in jest.

But Trump, who has long criticized Rosenstein, could very well use the news as pretext to fire the Justice Department’s second in command. If that happens, it could spell the beginning of the end for special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into possible Trump campaign collusion with Russia during the 2016 presidential election.

That’s because Rosenstein is the man responsible for overseeing Mueller’s investigation. Attorney General Jeff Sessions — Rosenstein’s boss — recused himself from the probe last year after it became clear he’d provided false and misleading testimony to Congress about his own contacts with Russia.

That’s left Rosenstein to walk a tightrope. On one hand, he’s remained committed to protecting the investigation from conservatives inside and outside Congress who believe it’s biased against the president and have been urging Trump to fire the special counsel.

But at the same time, Rosenstein can’t go so far in defending the probe that Trump — who has repeatedly called the investigation a “witch hunt” — fires him, as that would pave the way for Trump to potentially replace him with someone more willing to fire Mueller or otherwise thwart the investigation.

This is important, because Mueller has to run major investigative decisions past the deputy attorney general. A Rosenstein replacement could simply refuse to approve any of Mueller’s requests, effectively slowing the whole investigation to a crawl, or even fire Mueller outright if he felt there was a reason to do so. Rosenstein, however, has made it clear that at this point, he sees no reason to fire Mueller.

This has irked Trump for months. He continues to tell some of his advisers that he thinks Rosenstein is “a Democrat” (even though he is actually a lifelong Republican) — possibly suggesting that he is thinking about firing the deputy attorney general.

All of which leads to one startling conclusion about Rosenstein: The future of the Mueller probe — and possibly even Trump’s presidency — is intricately linked with how well the nation’s second-highest law enforcement official performs this delicate balancing act.

The Times’s Friday story, however, may have just destroyed that.

Rosenstein has to keep Trump and the Justice Department happy. It’s not easy.

Rosenstein’s performance during a congressional hearing last year revealed how he’s trying to navigate this tricky situation.

Here’s what happened: On the night of December 12 — mere hours before Rosenstein would testify at a House Judiciary Committee hearing — the Justice Department showed reporters some anti-Trump texts. The messages were from two FBI officials, Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, who had corresponded throughout the 2016 presidential election.

Strzok — a former top FBI counterintelligence official who was on Mueller’s investigative team — texted Page that Trump was an “idiot.” He also wanted Clinton to defeat Trump in the election — in another message, he wrote: “God Hillary should win 100,000,000 — 0.”

There was also a text that seemingly implied Strzok and Page were working on an “insurance policy” in case Trump won the election. But the Wall Street Journal reported on December 18 that Strzok’s text was really about the need to investigate possible Trump-Russia ties.

Mueller removed Strzok from his staff in July, and the Strzok-Page exchanges are subject to an internal investigation by the Justice Department. Still, some conservatives in and out of government think these texts show that the Mueller probe is biased against the president.

It’s unclear if Rosenstein authorized the release of the texts, but some legal analysts thought the DOJ made the messages public the night before Rosenstein’s big hearing to curry favor with the anti-Mueller crowd on the House Judiciary Committee.

”It’s appalling behavior by the department,” Matthew Miller, a former spokesperson for the Justice Department in the Obama administration, told Business Insider about the release of the texts at the time. “This is an ongoing investigation in which these employees have due-process rights, and the political leadership at DOJ has thrown them to the wolves so Rosenstein can get credit from House Republicans at his hearing.”

Rosenstein defended the release of the texts during the hearing, saying: “We consulted with the inspector general to determine that he had no objection to releasing the material,” in response to a question about the texts by Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD). “If he had, we would not have released it,” Rosenstein said.

But he also defended Mueller in that same session. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), the committee’s ranking member, asked Rosenstein the most highly anticipated question of the session: “If you were ordered today to fire Mr. Mueller, what would you do?”

“If there were good cause, I would act. If there were no good cause, I would not,” Rosenstein replied. He then went on to defend Mueller personally, saying, “It would’ve been difficult to find anyone more qualified for this job.”

These exchanges show that Rosenstein was trying to stand up for the probe, while still appeasing Trump and his allies. Benjamin Wittes, an expert on national security law at the Brookings Institution, wrote on the Lawfare blog that Rosenstein may pay a price for doing both.

“Rosenstein here has, at a minimum, contributed to [the political] circus — at the expense of his own employees,” he wrote after the hearing. “The DOJ and FBI workforces will not forget that. Nor should they.”

Those 24 hours last December encapsulated Rosenstein’s political two-step. One minute he’s defending the release of texts that serve as ammunition for Mueller critics and Trump allies to lambast the investigation; the next, he’s defending Mueller from criticism by those same anti-Mueller conservatives and Trump allies — and putting his own job at risk.

Keeping both sides happy, however, allows Rosenstein to say he’s supporting his staff while also backing Trump. The deputy attorney general is playing a deft game, and those who have worked with him before are confident that he can pull it off.

“What you have in Rod is somebody that is battle-tested,” Julie Myers Wood, a prosecutor and former colleague of Rosenstein’s, told me in an interview. “I can’t think of anyone that is more prepared to handle this situation than him.”

Rosenstein is an apolitical man caught in a very political moment

Despite these recent controversies, Rosenstein has long been considered an apolitical straight shooter by those who’ve worked with him. “He has a directness about him — there’s no bullshit,” Philip Heymann, Rosenstein’s former professor at Harvard Law School and later his colleague, told me last December. “He says what he thinks, but he’s always fair.”

President George W. Bush appointed Rosenstein as the US attorney for Maryland in 2005. President Barack Obama later kept him on, making Rosenstein only one of three US attorneys — out of a total of 93 — retained by the new administration. Rosenstein officially joined the Trump administration in April as deputy attorney general after receiving broad bipartisan support in his confirmation vote.

But Rosenstein found himself in the middle of a major political controversy just two weeks into his new job. On May 9, 2017, he co-authored a letter with Sessions making the case that Trump should fire then-FBI Director James Comey because of how he had handled the results of the agency’s Clinton investigation.

“Over the past year,” Rosenstein wrote, “the FBI’s reputation and credibility have suffered substantial damage, and it has affected the entire Department of Justice.”

He added: “I cannot defend the director’s handling of the conclusion of the investigation of Secretary Clinton’s emails, and I do not understand his refusal to accept the nearly universal judgment that he was mistaken.”

Trump fired Comey later that day, citing the Sessions-Rosenstein letter as his reason. Pro-Trump Republicans and conservative media applauded the decision to remove Comey, but Democrats were furious. And some of that fury extended to Rosenstein himself.

Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) told NPR shortly after the Comey firing that he had “lost any confidence I might have had” in Rosenstein, whose “first official action was putting his name on that letter, basically making what appeared to be bogus reasons [for] firing the FBI director.”

Those who know Rosenstein say he recommended firing Comey not because he wanted to please Trump, but rather because he believed Comey hurt the FBI’s reputation. “He’s guided by justice, not by politics,” Steve Levin, a former colleague of Rosenstein’s in Maryland, told me in an interview last December.

A week later, Rosenstein named Mueller as the special counsel, authorizing him to look into possible Trump-Russia ties as well as “any matters that arose or may arise from the investigation.”

It now seemed that Rosenstein wasn’t in Trump’s pocket. Trump himself was confused about where Rosenstein’s true loyalties lay, tweeting on June 16, “I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director! Witch Hunt.”

Firing Rosenstein could hamstring the Trump-Russia probe

Rosenstein somehow managed to navigate the Comey firing drama deftly, pleasing Trump just enough to keep his job without abandoning his principles. Whether he’ll be able to do that again this time around remains to be seen.

And a lot more is riding on his ability to pull it off this time. That’s because Rosenstein is now Mueller’s boss. He can approve or deny Mueller’s requests to investigate or indict someone.

So far, it doesn’t appear that Rosenstein has stopped Mueller from pursuing the investigation the way he sees fit, and he’s made every indication that he intends to continue to let Muller proceed with his investigation.

Trump could change all of that if he decided to put pressure on Rosenstein to fire Mueller. Rosenstein could carry out Trump’s request, but those who know him believe he wouldn’t. “I have no doubt that if the president ordered Rod to fire Mueller, absent good cause, Rod would refuse that order,” Levin told me.

But if Rosenstein did fire Mueller, the investigation might not be completely undermined, as charges against four Trump associates have already been filed and prosecutors are likely to continue to follow leads from the beginning of the investigation in June 2016.

Trump, however, has another option: He could instead fire Rosenstein and replace him with someone friendlier to the Trump administration and more willing to constrain Mueller — which is now a distinct possibility based on Rosenstein’s reported comments.

That could be even more detrimental to the Mueller probe. Asha Rangappa, a legal expert at Yale’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs, wrote in a post for the Just Security blog that a new deputy attorney general could effectively cripple the Mueller investigation by rejecting Mueller’s requests to investigate more people, obtain new evidence, or pursue charges against additional people, for instance.

Trump privately distrusts Rosenstein, reportedly telling his advisers that Rosenstein is “a Democrat” and a threat to his presidency. This has led to growing speculation that he may look for any excuse to fire the deputy attorney general.

Trump may have just found one.

source: vox

#WhyIDidntReport is a sad, but necessary, rebuke to Trump


The Times’ big new Rod Rosenstein story has major implications for Mueller’s probe


Their sources said Rosenstein discussed taping Trump, and invoking the 25th Amendment.

After President Donald Trump fired FBI director James Comey last year, Rod Rosenstein — then newly installed as deputy attorney general — talked to other Justice Department officials about secretly recording the president or invoking the 25th Amendment to remove him from office.

That’s according to a new report from the New York Times’ Adam Goldman and Michael Schmidt. And though neither ended up happening, this leak could have major implications for Rosenstein, who continues to supervise special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, and who conservatives have been urging President Trump to fire for months.

Rosenstein called the new story “inaccurate and factually incorrect.” But the Times cites descriptions of memos written by former deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe about his comments and confirmed those descriptions with people briefed on the episode.

It was Rosenstein who appointed special counsel Robert Mueller back in May 2017, and it’s Rosenstein who continues to oversee Mueller’s Russia investigation.

Well before this story, President Trump has privately mused about firing Rosenstein (or Sessions, or Mueller), so he could put someone he views as more loyal in charge of the Russia probe. But he has hesitated from actually following through on this.

The new Times report, though, will undoubtedly infuriate the president — and could well provide him with the pretext he’s long sought to justify Rosenstein’s firing, and provoke a showdown over the future of Mueller’s probe. And in the moments after the Times published it, speculation about a new Saturday Night Massacre once again arose in Washington.

What the Times reported about Rosenstein

Rosenstein was sworn in as deputy attorney general toward the end of April 2017. Just two weeks later, on May 8, he and Attorney General Jeff Sessions met with the White House with President Trump to discuss the potential firing of FBI director James Comey. Rosenstein wrote a memo criticizing Comey’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation, which the White House then released the next day to justify Comey’s firing.

The new Times report describes Rosenstein’s behavior, and interactions with top Justice Department officials in the week or so after Comey’s firing. He is described as feeling used by the White House — and resentful and suspicious enough to float two eyebrow-raising possibilities.

First was recording Trump. The way the Times tells it, Rosenstein was frustrated with dysfunction related to the new FBI director hiring process. So during a meeting with McCabe and “at least four other senior Justice Department officials,” Goldman and Schmidt write:

Mr. Rosenstein then raised the idea of wearing a recording device or “wire,” as he put it, to secretly tape the president when he visited the White House. One participant asked whether Mr. Rosenstein was serious, and he replied animatedly that he was.

If not him, then Mr. McCabe or other F.B.I. officials interviewing with Mr. Trump for the job could perhaps wear a wire or otherwise record the president, Mr. Rosenstein offered. White House officials never checked his phone when he arrived for meetings there, Mr. Rosenstein added, implying it would be easy to secretly record Mr. Trump.

However, a Justice Department spokesperson provided a statement to the Times, from an anonymous person present at the meeting, that Rosenstein meant the remark sarcastically. In any case, there’s no evidence this was ever carried out.

Second was using the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office. Section 4 of the 25th Amendment of the Constitution states that if the vice president and a majority of Cabinet secretaries decide the president is “unable to discharge the powers and duties” of the presidency, they can start a process that could remove him from office. It has never been invoked.

According to Goldman and Schmidt, Rosenstein brought this up in conversations with McCabe and others, and told McCabe that he might be able to persuade Sessions and then-secretary of homeland security John Kelly, who is now Trump’s chief of staff, to get the process rolling. But this didn’t end up happening either.

“Based on my personal dealings with the president, there is no basis to invoke the 25th Amendment,” Rosenstein said in a statement to the Times.

Finally, a lawyer for Andrew McCabe released a statement about the memos described in the story. The statement says that when McCabe “was interviewed by the Special Counsel more than a year ago, he gave all his memos” to Mueller’s office. However, there was also “a set of those memos” left behind at the FBI. “He has no knowledge of how any member of the media obtained those memos,” the statement concludes.

Trump could use this to fire Rosenstein

From one perspective, this is a story about two things that didn’t happen: if the story is accurate, Rosenstein floated two remarkable possibilities during a tumultuous time 16 months ago, but neither appears to have actually come to pass.

But the near-term consequences are likely to come from the fallout from the story itself, with big implications for Rosenstein’s future and the future of the Mueller investigation.

Since Rosenstein first appointed Mueller in May 2017, Washington has awaited the next showdown between President Trump and his Justice Department. The president raged privately about potentially firing Mueller as early as June 2017, and at various points since has reportedly discussed firing Sessions or Rosenstein, too.

However, Trump has shied away from actually doing so — evidently realizing that he had no defensible justification, and fearing the political backlash that would ensue.

Trump’s conservative allies in the House of Representatives have also harshly criticized Rosenstein for months and discussed the prospect of impeaching him with only the thinnest of pretexts. But they basically had nothing, so the effort was shelved.

Now, this new story seems so perfectly designed to justify Rosenstein’s firing that Twitter soon brimmed with suspicion that the Times’ sources were trying to bring about that very outcome.

In any case, Trump does now have something on Rosenstein. He may well calculate that he can portray this behavior as outrageous or insubordinate enough to justify firing the deputy attorney general at long last. And if so, the crisis over the Russia probe and the rule of law will have finally arrived.

source: vox

Ryan Zinke to the oil and gas industry: “Our government should work for you”

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke told an oil and gas conference this week that the government should work for them, prompting an outcry from environmental groups.

The interior secretary’s latest gaffe was a pledge of allegiance to fossil fuels.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke let the mask slip this week, turning the subtext of his term in office backing fossil fuels into the headline as he spoke to a friendly audience.

On Tuesday, Zinke gave the keynote address at the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association’s fall meeting in Lafayette, Louisiana. He told the conference over lunch “our government should work for you,” according to organizers:

You can debate what Zinke meant by “work for you,” but many heard it as a pledge of allegiance to the industry.

And according to the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association, the industry members in the room were thrilled with the pledge, giving Zinke a standing ovation. (An organizer told me none of the speeches at the event were recorded.)

However, environmental activists and some lawmakers were appalled by the statement.

And then that evening, Zinke’s official Twitter account went into damage control mode, implying the message was meant for a broader audience rather than just the industries he’s supposed to regulate.

But Zinke has said pretty much the same thing before. In March, he told an energy industry conference: “Interior should not be in the business of being an adversary. We should be in the business of being a partner.”

For the record, the Interior Department’s job is to manage about 75 percent of federal public land, which amounts to about one-fifth of the total area of the United States. This means conservation, preserving culture, facilitating recreation. It also entails leasing rights to mining, drilling, grazing, and logging. However, it does not mean that the agency needs to advance the fossil fuel industry’s interests, certainly not at the expense of the environment.

But the Interior Department under Zinke has been pushing much harder to open up public lands to private companies while drastically rolling back its environmental responsibilities.

“Our mandate is multiple-use of public lands, and multiple-use also includes the development of natural resources as we seek to leverage American energy for American strength,” Zinke wrote in the department’s 2018-’22 strategic plan.

One place we’ve seen Zinke pick sides is in his response to California’s record wildfires. Rather than acknowledging the role of climate change in increasing fire risks, he blamed “environmental terrorist groups” while calling for more private logging on public lands.

Zinke’s words have been loud, but his actions have been even louder.

Under Zinke, we’ve seen the largest rollback of federal land protections in US history. He also opened nearly all US coastal waters to offshore oil and gas drilling, preparing for the largest lease sale in US history. The National Park Service, which is part of the Interior Department, proposed more than doubling national park entrance fees before settling on increases of $5 to $10.

The Bureau of Land Management, also part of the Interior Department, announced this week it was revising its rules on methane emissions from gas drilling on public lands. Interior is also pushing for more roads in wilderness areas, dialing back conservation plans for wildlife, and selling leases for Arctic oil and gas drilling. The agency canceled a study looking into the health impacts of coal mining and dismissed violations committed by coal companies.

Taken together, it’s pretty clear who Zinke is working for.

Is Ryan Zinke the next Scott Pruitt?

However, the Trump administration has the odd habit of stumbling over itself. President Donald Trump’s trade war is already threatening to undo gains for the fossil fuel industry as China readies tariffs on US energy.

Zinke himself tendencies exhibited by former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt that have invited scrutiny from lawmakers. He’s opaque with his schedule, obscuring his dealings with the energy industry. He took a $12,000 flight on an oil executive’s charter plane. He was involved in a land deal with the chair of Halliburton, which may have violated conflict of interest rules. The Government Accountability Office had to end a probe in June into whether Zinke threatened Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) over her vote on Obamacare because the Interior Department didn’t cooperate.

He also has his office fly a secretarial flag when he’s in the building and minted his own challenge coin.

With Pruitt no longer sucking the oxygen out of the room, congressional Democrats are now eyeing Zinke and have promised more investigations of his conduct should they take control of the House in the fall.

“Zinke is one the most ethically challenged members of the Cabinet and maybe one of the most ethically challenged secretaries of the Interior we’ve had in living memory,” Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA), who could chair the House Oversight Government Operations Subcommittee if Democrats win in November, told Politico this week. “[There’s] rich material here to look into his behavior and his fitness for continued service in the office.”

source: vox

The bipartisan plan to end surprise ER bills, explained


Finding homes for immigrant kids is hard. Trump’s making it harder — by arresting their relatives.

While some immigrants are able to reunite with their families in the US, unauthorized-immigrant relatives seeking custody of children who arrived in the US unaccompanied risk identification, arrest, and possibly deportation.

The federal government has a record 12,800 immigrant kids in custody — but ICE has started arresting parents who step up to take them.

The federal government is officially using children who arrive in the US unaccompanied as a means to identify — and sometimes arrest — their unauthorized-immigrant relatives who step forward to take custody of them.

A high-ranking Immigration and Customs Enforcement official told a Senate committee Tuesday that between June and September, ICE agents had arrested 41 unauthorized immigrants who had agreed to serve as “sponsors” of unaccompanied children in the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services.

In the hearing, ICE’s Matt Albence said a “large chunk” of those arrested were criminals. But a follow-up inquiry from CNN’s Tal Kopan revealed that 70 percent had been arrested for “simple immigration violations” — in other words, for being unauthorized immigrants.

The news confirms fears that immigration advocates have had for months — and will almost certainly make the already difficult task of placing children with sponsors even harder. HHS is already facing heavy criticism from Democrats for holding a record 12,800 immigrant children in custody instead of releasing them to sponsors. At the same time, it’s being blamed for not vetting sponsors carefully enough and for “losing track” of children.

The best-case scenario from the government’s perspective has been to place a child who comes to the US alone with a parent who already lives here. But it won’t have that option as frequently, now that those parents — overwhelmingly unauthorized immigrants — have a very good reason to hide.

The arrests were made possible by a new policy, implemented in June, that requires the government to check both the criminal history and immigration status of any would-be sponsor — and of all other adults in the household. (Previously, only criminal history checks were required of all sponsors.)

Immigration advocates worried that the new policy would create a chilling effect that would prevent parents and other relatives from coming forward to take custody of their children, out of fear they’d be outing themselves to ICE. Some Trump administration officials were dismissive of those concerns; Scott Lloyd, the head of the HHS office that oversees custody of unaccompanied children, told Senate staff in June that “a motivated sponsor won’t let immigration status deter” them from stepping forward.

But now it’s clear that not stepping forward may be, for some parents and relatives, an act of self-preservation to avoid getting sent out of the country for bringing their children here.

Placing kids who arrive unaccompanied with sponsors is already a tricky balance

Migrants under the age of 18 who are apprehended at the US-Mexico border without a parent or guardian alongside them are deemed “unaccompanied alien children.” They are put in the custody of HHS — specifically, the Office of Refugee Resettlement — and the agency is supposed to care for the children, while identifying and contacting an appropriate sponsor for them. The potential sponsor is generally the closest relative in the US.

HHS is supposed to place children with sponsors as quickly as practicable. At the same time, though, HHS is responsible for vetting the sponsor — making sure they are who they say they are and will provide a safe environment for the child.

Trying to reunite children with relatives versus trying to ensure they’re kept out of danger is a tricky policy balance. As HHS has come under more scrutiny for its treatment of immigrant children in 2018, each side also presents political liabilities.

Err too far on the side of caution, and HHS officials risk accusations of keeping 12,800 children “in cages” instead of reuniting them with their families. (While there have been questions about the operation of some facilities that house these children and serious abuse accusations at one of the largest contractors, these facilities that house the children are supposed to serve as an alternative to detention centers.)

Err too far on the side of releasing the children, and you risk stories about “losing” or “losing track of” them because you can’t find them after placement. (Some stories of the government losing track of immigrant children tend to have a less alarming explanation — for instance, a child placed with relatives who don’t pick up the phone when the agency follows up can be classified as “lost.” But there have also been a few cases in which insufficiently vetted sponsors really did turn out to be labor traffickers.)

Finding a good home for all these children would be a tall order for any government agency — especially one that’s been operating on a thinly stretched budget for the last several years as numbers of unaccompanied children have risen.

But the Trump administration is adding a third policy imperative: immigration enforcement.

Trump is trying to stop unauthorized immigrants from having their children brought to the US

The overwhelming majority of sponsors for unaccompanied alien children are, themselves, unauthorized immigrants. A 2016 report from the Associated Press found that 80 percent of sponsors from February 2014 to September 2015 were unauthorized; Lloyd estimated in 2018 that the current proportion is closer to 90 percent.

Parents who step up as sponsors for their children (who made up 60 percent of sponsors from January 2014 to April 2015) are especially likely to be unauthorized; after all, if they had legal status in the US, they’d almost always be able to extend that legal status to their minor children.

Immigration hawks have concluded that the sponsor system essentially amounts to a way for parents to bring their children to the US illegally and launder their status. Parents who are already in the US can pay smugglers to bring the child over and abandon them to government custody — then have the parents step up to claim the child, who in the meantime will be given the extra court rights of an “unaccompanied” alien child and a better shot at eventual legal status.

It’s possible to argue that this abets smuggling — at least, it creates a ready supply for smugglers to prey on. Smugglers have certainly taken advantage by offering professionalized “door-to-door” operations for children: a money-back guarantee that the child will end up with relatives in the United States. The hawks’ solution — and, now, the administration’s — is to insert immigration enforcement into the sponsorship and placement process. ICE has already conducted a major operation to arrest 400 parents as accessories in the smuggling of their own children.

In April, as part of a broader cooperation policy between HHS and the Department of Homeland Security about treatment of unaccompanied children — something that Senate investigators led by Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) had been demanding — ICE secured the authority to check the immigration status of sponsors and other adults living with them in all cases. Senators in both parties expressed concern that parents would be afraid to claim their children if they felt they were at risk of deportation.

Lloyd’s brush-off reply — that a “motivated” parent wouldn’t be deterred — is typical of the administration’s response when asked about the potential chilling effects of its policies. It’s similar to the response that ICE officials give when asked about fears that immigrant victims of crime won’t report to police — or to fears that immigrants might not show up for check-ins with ICE, or even interviews for green cards with USCIS, if they know they might be deported instead.

In those cases, the government can afford to ignore possible chilling effects because they doesn’t inconvenience the government. Now, though, it faces the likely possibility that HHS, already holding more children than it can afford, will have more and more difficulty finding sponsors to take them: The sponsors could rationally suspect they might come into ICE’s crosshairs if they step forward to give a child in government custody a home.

source: vox

Beto O’Rourke could lead a blue wave in Texas — even if he loses his Senate race


Inspiring Legacies of a Technocrat Turned Politician


Engr. A.A Sule is a dogged technocrat from Nassarawa state who never hides his desire to make the state as one of the leading states in Nigeria. He happens to be a firm believer in a government that works for the development of the people.

He believes that government is all about mobilising resources and people for optimal development. As a successful technocrat both in public and private sectors he has the wherewithal to bring to fore the development to his state.

It is his successes in private/business ventures that he attracted and also facilitated the establishment of Dangote sugar factory in the state which no doubt has open opportunities of economic, social development through direct and indirect employment to the indigenes and citizens. This particular feat will in no measure increase the Internally Generated Revenue of the state when it is fully operational.

Some of the associates of Engr. Sule has described him as a game changer, an achiever and a team player. He has proven this beyond every reasonable doubt when he had a shot at AP as Managing Director where he met the company in almost a comatose or debt-ridden from almost 23 banks but he never got discouraged rather he swung into action by offsetting the debt and positioned the company to a greater height. As at the time he was leaving AP, no debt and left behind over N5b.

This administrative prowess when brought into the governance of a state like Nassarawa with meager federal allocation will no doubt increase the internally generated revenue of the state.

Enthusiastic by his achievement in business, Engr. A.A Sule never hesitated in contributing to the educational system of the state. This philanthropist gesture has earned him an endearing affection among his peers.

Engr. A.A Sule is richly blessed and has compassion for the poor and this leadership treat has endeared him to be always donating to the good cause of the state.

This enigma whose quest is to see his state among the leading state decided to join a progressive movement platform in order to mobilise society into a more inclusive drive for progress and development.


Amazon’s looming challenge: Europe’s antitrust laws


Republicans in a US territory just legalized marijuana

Northern Mariana Islands Gov. Ralph Torres (R) signs a bill fully legalizing marijuana.

The Northern Mariana Islands’ legislature is the first in the US to legalize marijuana sales.

The Northern Mariana Islands, a US territory in the Pacific Ocean, just became the first American jurisdiction to legalize the sales of marijuana through a legislature. And it did so with the approval of a Republican-controlled government.

Gov. Ralph Torres (R), who oversees the island territory of around 52,000 people, signed the bill on Friday, following its approval by the Republican-controlled House and Senate. The new law not only allows adults 21 and older to legally possess marijuana, but it will foster the creation of a fully legal marijuana market, overseen by government regulators.

Most Americans support marijuana legalization, but Republicans are typically more resistant — although Gallup last year found that a majority of Republicans now support legalization.

Earlier this year, Vermont became the first state to legalize marijuana through a legislature instead of a ballot initiative. (Notably, a Republican governor also signed that bill into law.) But Vermont’s legislation only legalized marijuana possession, not sales — meaning the Northern Mariana Islands is ahead of all states in this regard.

According to marijuana legalization activist Tom Angell, “The territory is also the first US jurisdiction to go from having cannabis totally illegal to allowing recreational use without first having a medical marijuana program.”

“Today, our people made history,” Gov. Torres said in a statement. “We took a stand to legalize marijuana in the [Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands] for recreational, medical, and commercial use.”

Nine states and Washington, DC, have legalized recreational marijuana at some capacity. Legislatures in other states, such as New York and New Jersey, are also considering measures that would fully legalize marijuana sales, but such proposals have not moved forward yet.

Marijuana remains illegal at the federal level, which applies in the Northern Mariana Islands. But the federal government has by and large taken a hands-off approach to states and other jurisdictions legalizing marijuana, despite Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s opposition to the policy change.

Supporters of legalization argue that it eliminates the harms of marijuana prohibition: the hundreds of thousands of arrests around the US, the racial disparities behind those arrests, and the billions of dollars that flow from the black market for illicit marijuana to drug cartels that then use the money for violent operations around the world. All of this, legalization advocates say, will outweigh any of the potential downsides — such as increased cannabis use — that might come with legalization.

Opponents, meanwhile, claim that legalization will enable a huge marijuana industry that will market the drug irresponsibly. They point to America’s experiences with the alcohol and tobacco industries in particular, which have built their financial empires in large part on some of the heaviest consumers of their products. This could result in far more people using pot, even if it leads to negative health consequences.

Supporters seem to be winning out. So far, 2018 has been a watershed year for pot legalization, from Canada becoming the first wealthy nation to legalize marijuana to California opening the world’s largest cannabis market. The Northern Mariana Islands’ decision keeps that momentum going.

For more on marijuana legalization, read Vox’s explainer.

source: vox

Ed Whelan’s tweets have created a second Kavanaugh scandal

Brett Kavanaugh leaving his Maryland home on September 19, 2018.

Did Brett Kavanaugh know a friend of his was planning to smear a private citizen?

On Thursday night, conservative legal operative Ed Whelan sent a series of tweets suggesting that the sexual assault allegations against Brett Kavanaugh were likely a case of mistaken identity. His evidence was that a high school classmate of Kavanaugh’s kind of looked like him, and lived in a childhood home that sounded similar to the home where Kavanaugh’s accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, described the assault taking place.

This thin evidence was quickly torn apart. Political observers from across the aisle blasted Whelan for posting the classmate’s name and photograph and strongly implying, without evidence, that he committed sexual assault. It turns out the classmate, a middle school teacher whose name I don’t want to disseminate, was someone Ford knew; she told the Washington Post that “there is zero chance that I would confuse them.”

By Friday morning, the backlash was so overwhelming that Whelan, who is currently president of the conservative Ethics & Public Policy Center, deleted his entire tweetstorm and apologized:

This isn’t a case of a fringe conspiracy theory. Whelan is a well-connected guy in Republican legal circles with a long history of working on judicial nominations. He’s also a good friend of Kavanaugh’s and had reportedly been involved in the effort to get him confirmed. When you put these things together, it raises serious questions as to whether anyone in the White House or Congress knew about or helped coordinate the potentially libelous tweetstorm. It’s even possible that Kavanaugh himself was involved.

Whelan denied any communication with Kavanaugh or the White House about the theory — but, notably, did not mention anyone in Congress. There’s at least some circumstantial evidence that Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Republican from Utah who has supported Kavanaugh throughout the Ford saga, was looped in.

The tweetstorm was a clear attempt to defend Kavanaugh without engaging in the ugly business of calling Ford a liar. The problem, though, is that it ended up strongly suggesting that an uninvolved private citizen was a sex offender — hurting his reputation and dragging him into the spotlight without any good reason. This is in and of itself scandalous, and creates another controversy the Kavanaugh nomination can ill afford.

“The emerging consensus, which I think is right, seems to be that Ed Whelan has made things noticeably worse for [Kavanaugh],” writes Ken White, an attorney who runs the legal blog Popehat. “What a colossal failure of judgment.”

But even if this doesn’t give Republicans pause about continuing with Kavanaugh’s nomination, it’s something that ought to be investigated further.

If Kavanaugh was in any way involved in Whelan’s tweets, then it’s a serious mark against his judgment and character. People who want to serve on the nation’s highest court should not be willing to casually drag a private citizen through the mud, using dubiously legal tactics, to advance their own goals. The same goes for other people in public office, be they Senate Republicans or White House officials.

The case for investigating Whelan’s allegations

Almost immediately after the tweetstorm broke, connected observers began speculating about where Whelan’s theory came from and if he was working alone. Steve Schmidt, a longtime Republican strategist who worked on President George W. Bush’s Supreme Court nominations, was probably the most informed of these speculators:

There’s some evidence in the public domain backing up Schmidt’s speculation. On Tuesday, we learned that Kavanaugh had met privately with Hatch, who serves on the Judiciary Committee, and told him the accusations could be a case of mistaken identity. Whelan amplified this defense on his Twitter feed.

On Wednesday, Hatch’s spokesperson, Matt Whitlock, retweeted another Whelan tweet promoting a mistaken identity theory, telling people to “keep an eye on Ed’s tweets the next few days.” (After Whelan’s thread came out, Whitlock deleted the tweet and denied having any foreknowledge of what Whelan was planning.)

Then on Thursday evening, the Washington Post reported that the “mistaken identity” argument was a central plank of the planned Kavanaugh defense against the Ford allegations. It’s not clear in the story whether the plan was to simply say it was someone else, or to point the finger at a specific person as Whelan did:

Kavanaugh and his allies have been privately discussing a defense that would not question whether an incident involving Ford happened, but instead would raise doubts that the attacker was Kavanaugh, according to a person familiar with the discussions.

“I find this alarming,” tweeted Democratic Sen. Brian Schatz, pointing to the above paragraph in the Washington Post story.

Whelan denied any collusion with Kavanaugh, as reported by the Washington Post’s Robert Costa:

This statement doesn’t deny that Whelan spoke to members of Congress or their staff, and the denial of coordination with Kavanaugh and the administration is couched: All Whelan says is that he personally didn’t speak with them about it. It’s entirely possible that Hatch’s office, or some other associate of Whelan’s, looped in the White House and the nominee about the coming tweetstorm.

I say “possible” because none of this is even remotely confirmed. I don’t want to blast Whelan for lobbing allegations without evidence and then engage in the same thing myself. I have no inside knowledge to assert that any of this has actually happened.

But the fact pattern is suspicious enough that it should be investigated further. The wrongdoing here is significant, and the effects are not yet contained. On Friday morning, Fox & Friends, the president’s favorite news show, aired a segment suggesting that Whelan’s theory is plausible (though they didn’t mention his name). A piece on the fringe right pro-Trump blog Gateway Pundit, one that names Whelan’s target and credulously repeats his allegations, has nearly 35,000 Facebook shares.

This means that Whelan’s tweets, even after their deletion, could continue to do real damage to the reputation of a seemingly innocent American.

If Brett Kavanaugh knew about this and okayed it, or at least did not object, that strikes me as a serious mark against him. If Hatch or his office was involved, the voters of Utah deserve to know. If the White House was involved, the staffers responsible need to be held to account.

From top to bottom, the Whelan saga was a disaster for the Kavanaugh nomination. It’s the political equivalent of an interception (an own goal if you prefer soccer), concretely hurting the pro-Kavanaugh camp’s case.

But perhaps more importantly, it’s a potentially a story of serious wrongdoing by major government officials. There’s another cloud hanging over Kavanaugh’s nomination now, and it seems hard to justify confirming him until it’s cleared up.

source: vox

How much would the iPhone cost if it were made in America?


Trump just walked back his controversial order to declassify Russia investigation information

US President Donald Trump steps off Air Force One upon arrival at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas on September 20, 2018.

The original order was shockingly wide-ranging.

Four days after issuing a controversial, wide-ranging instruction to the Justice Department to declassify and publicly release a great deal of material related to the Russia investigation without redactions, President Donald Trump said, essentially, never mind.

Trump tweeted Friday that he had heard concerns from both the Justice Department and “key Allies” about his instruction. Therefore, he said, he’d asked the inspector general “to review these documents on an expedited basis.” The exact meaning of his tweets isn’t clear, but they appear to represent a near-total walkback of his earlier announcement.

As written, Trump’s order — in a statement released by White House press secretary Sarah Sanders Monday — was shockingly broad. He called for the “immediate” declassification of certain documents related to the FISA wiretap on Carter Page and the FBI’s use of the Steele dossier. But he also demanded “all text messages related to the Russia investigation” from four former FBI officials and one current Justice Department official be released — “without redaction.”

Though these documents would have been fascinating for journalists and historians to review, Trump’s goal clearly wasn’t transparency — he was searching for more ammunition to further attack and discredit the Mueller probe publicly.

But there were many problems with his order.

For one, the Russia investigation is ongoing and involves Trump personally — which meant Trump was ordering the release of internal investigative material implicating himself and his associates.

Then there was the certainty that sensitive information would be released. Those documents and text messages could discuss all manner of things, including, potentially, investigators’ suspicions, secret evidence, investigative methods, and information on confidential sources whose lives could be put at risk.

The order to release information “unredacted” also could have violated the Privacy Act, which says the government cannot release personal information about people that’s found in government documents.

So it’s no surprise that Trump seems to have gotten a great deal of pushback from the Justice Department (as well as foreign allies who may have provided intelligence information to the US government that would have been exposed).

What happens next isn’t entirely clear. Trump says “the Inspector General” — presumably Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz — has been “asked” to look into this “on an expedited basis.” But it’s not clear whether the documents will still be publicly released, or whether Horowitz has just been asked to review them behind closed doors for potential wrongdoing. It’s also unclear how quickly it will happen.

The upshot, it seems, is that Trump tiptoed up to causing a dramatic crisis with the Justice Department and intelligence agencies ... and then backed down. For now.

source: vox